De mi amigo Edwin Melendez, Universidad de Puerto Rico. Interesante propuesta.
Shortening the gap between the two Puerto Rican camps
According to the last census there are now more Puerto Ricans in the United States than on the island. How could this demographic change provide for an original electoral action linking the two camps of the Puerto Rican people, that of the island and that of the mainland? Could it be possible a network devoted to elect US congressmen and state legislators familiar with Puerto Rico and able to contribute to a new relation of political forces both on the island and in US?
Luis Gutiérrez, a Puerto Rican and congressman for Illinois, has intervened in Puerto Rico’s public debates denouncing the gas pipeline project and violations of civil rights by the police in the island. Could more congressmen/women be elected, and, like Gutiérrez, take a stand on the problems of the Hispanic island? It may be a new means to relate Puerto Ricans on the island with those living in the States.
New waves of migration have modified the Puerto Rican community in the US. Many of the new migrants bring to the US labor market new levels of productivity, manifested on academic degrees and intellectual-technological work. Traveling back and forth is common among Puerto Ricans, thereby constituting, as some authors put it, a commuting nation. In the meantime the island increasingly lacks an economy of its own.
Young in average, Puerto Ricans share features of the so-called global postmodernity: a fluidity of empirical and material life vis a vis old solid structures which used to organize time and space universally; “vaporizacion” of society or “liquid modernity” given a reduction of the weight of institutions on individuals and a declining moral legitimacy of the ruling classes and government; individualism and even narcisism rooted in consumption and technology; submission to image and telecommunications; and integration into a new globalized, inter-ethnic, skeptical, and more insecure and exploited proletariat.
But Puerto Ricans also share a specific tension of their own, related to the frustration of their nationhood. They want to put forward a common historical existence, and thus impulses for collective action and civic mobilization come out, if often short-lived. Perhaps a silent feeling of orphanhood, so to say, exists among Puerto Ricans: a need of love and a stable community of their own, the want of a home. This absence may provoke discontent, even rage, which in its turn seems to relate to daily social violence.
American citizenship was granted in 1917 to individual Puerto Ricans, not to a collective nation or a Puerto Rican community. Citizenship reinforced US rule on Puerto Rico and formalized rights and obligations of Puerto Ricans insofar they were individuals taking part in the US market and armed forces. In the so-called insular cases of early 20th century, the Supreme Court maintained that Puerto Rico belonged to, yet it was not a part of, the US. Thereby it insisted on the subordinated (colonial) status of Puerto Rico, while recognizing rights of Puerto Rican individuals. For the US government, then, Puerto Rico is not a body politic. It is a social and cultural body only in so far is an object of federal bureaucratic, strategic or budgetary decision-making.
Now, the US government prevents Puerto Ricans living in the US from voting in the island’s elections. (They will not vote in the upcoming plebiscite, President Obama stated in 2011.) By contrast, many other countries facilitate the vote of their emmigrant nationals. The Dominican Republic, for instance, last year approved a law not only reassuring the right of Dominicans residing in foreign nations to vote in the Dominican elections, but also granting their right to elect representatives of their communities in the US, Puerto Rico, Spain, France, etc. to the Santo Domingo parliament.
Preventing Puerto Ricans on the island to vote in the US elections indicates the federal concept that the island is not a part of the US. Preventing Puerto Ricans living in the US to vote in the island’s elections indicates the federal concept that Puerto Ricans, including their huge migrant mass, do not constitute a social-political community in their own right.
This mechanical and disdainful approach from the American government is partly made possible by the gap created between Puerto Ricans of the island and those living in the States.
Puerto Rican migration into the US mainland was stimulated by US policies from early 20th century onwards. It may be said that the conservative aspects of Puerto Rican nationalism, as it emerged historically, and a culture of localism and “criollismo” daily promoted on the island by the media, have contributed to the gap between Puerto Ricans in the US and those in the island. These factors, however, fit into Washington’s policy, which assumes “Puerto Rico” is the island alone.
In US law, then, rights exist for Puerto Rican individuals but not for Puerto Rico. It is a big contrast with the American continuous celebration of its own national collective ego. Discussing Puerto Rican issues in Congress and the states legislatures could be a means to approach the diaspora-determined reality of the Caribbean country.
(The author teaches social sciences at the University of Puerto Rico.)
Published 8 January 2012 in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun.